There are literally hundreds of theatres in Greater London and pinning down the inspiration behind their names can often be difficult.
That’s not a problem with the Puppet Theatre Barge though, which has one of the simplest names of them all. It says all you need to know; it is literally a puppet theatre on a barge. How refreshing.
There is more to it than that though. As you can imagine, there isn’t much room for actors, let alone a stage, so instead the 55-seat Puppet Theatre Barge uses marionettes for its shows.
Productions can vary from traditional children’s tales like Punch and Judy and Aesop’s Fables to Shakespeare (The Tempest, Macbeth), while its first production wasn’t exactly a mainstream crowd-pleaser – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, based on an 18th-century poem about a sailor’s experiences during a long storm-stricken sea voyage.
It has also commissioned original plays from contemporary published writers, such as Wendy Cope, Howard Barke and Finuala Dowling.
For the 2016 Christmas season, it is staging Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, before putting on The Red Balloon, a string puppet take on the classic Albert Lamorisse film of the same name, throughout January and February 2017.
The Puppet Theatre Barge first opened to the public on January 28th, 1982, whilst moored at Camden Lock in north London. By 1988, it had sailed to the basin at Little Venice, near Paddington, where it is now based for most of the year.
Between 1984 and 2008, the barge toured up River Thames every summer, holding performances in Abingdon, Wallingford, Reading, Henley-upon-Thames, Marlow, Cliveden, Windsor and Walton-upon-Thames.
It has received glowing reviews from major news outlets over the years.
The Independent hailed it as ‘one of London’s more elusive treasures’, while the Guardian wrote ‘the scale of puppetry forces you to surrender your imagination in a way that flesh and blood actors never could’.
The Times wrote that the puppets ‘have a delicate charm’ while The Yorkshire Post praised it as ‘true theatrical magic’.
As if you needed any further verification of the theatre’s quality, its patron is comedian and actor Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, who has been known to write forewords for the productions.
Finding the Puppet Theatre Barge
Between October and July, the barge is based in Little Venice at Blomfield Road, opposite number 35, London, W9 2PF.
Tube travellers should get the Bakerloo line to Warwick Avenue, while the nearest train station is Paddington.
If you’re visiting between July and September, the barge can be found in Richmond at 83 Petersham Road, TW10 6UT. Tube and train passengers should alight at Richmond Station on the Overground and District lines.
How to book
Due to a limited number of seats, it’d be wise to book ahead. You can do so by calling 020 7249 6876 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Bookings can also be processed through its puppetbarge.com website.
The owners stress that the shows are not suitable for babies, but if bringing a baby is unavoidable, please inform the box office prior to booking so you can be conveniently seated if you need to take the child out. Children aged over two require a child ticket.
It is recommended that you arrive around 15 minutes before the performance starts. Latecomers will be asked to wait until the interval or a suitable break.